Brazil is facing a political crisis, and news organizations are facing down a torrent of breaking news as corruption scandals spanning the last several Brazilian presidents continue to roil the country.
In the eye of the storm, the digital outlet Nexo Jornal has tried to carve out a space for itself somewhere in between academic research and explanatory journalism. It’s held firm to its founding notion of being a subscriber-focused business, as it approaches its second year (under a second Brazilian president, who recently survived impeachment).
“We do explanatory, contextualized news, and we launched at the beginning of a period of crisis in Brazil,” said Renata Rizzi, Nexo’s cofounder and its director of strategy and business. Nexo launched in the summer of 2015, and “at the time, Lula [35th Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva] was being investigated. We were in the middle of this turmoil in Brazil, and it was crazy in terms of workload. Things were moving so fast through the news that I think if someone went to our homepage they would think we were from Mars.”
Over the next year, the site established smoother editorial workflows and added five new sections, all through the lens of organizing and contextualizing the myriad debates around newsy topics, or answering common reader questions, from politics to science to culture. Its top stories from the week after Michel Temer, the 37th and current Brazilian president, survived a congressional vote over a bribery charge against him give a good sense of Nexo’s approach: They include a series of charts breaking down how members of congress voted on impeachment, a column headlined “The End of Brazil,” and an explainer on whether it’s safe to pick off moldy bits from food and eat the rest (depends on the food!).
Nexo Jornal’s staff of about 30, half of whom are journalists and the rest a mix including developers, designers and product, have settled into a publishing rhythm. It always publishes, for instance, three infographics every week, two opinion pieces, and a quiz, Paula Miraglia, Nexo’s director general, pointed out to me. Every month it publishes a piece of longform reporting with comprehensive interactives that requires a heavy lift from a larger team (here’s a remarkable recent effort).
“From an editorial standpoint, we realized that context and explanation, we should take those things to an almost radical level. It is key to our editorial and business models to produce content that lasts,” Miraglia said. “The question we always ask is, what is the content that will make people pay for it? Because of our size, we produce less than some other outlets. It’s not about the amount of things we publish; for us it’s more about its lifespan and quality.” Miraglia and Rizzi both pointed to recent coverage around the emergence of a tape implicating Temer in a bribery: Some of the major Brazilian news organizations covered their homepages with more than a dozen different stories from various angles, while Nexo only had two, a basic explainer and a broader analysis.
Nexo also has a section of its site dedicated to new academic research, where scholars can submit their work for consideration, and Nexo editors work with them to distill their findings into a more readable form (the section isn’t following The Conversation’s model, which relies on member academic institutions for revenue).
The outlet’s academic touch can be explained by its two of its co-founders’ backgrounds: Rizzi is an engineer and has a Ph.D. in economics, and Miraglia is a social scientist with a Ph.D. in anthropology. Their third co-founder, Conrado Corselette, is a longtime journalist who serves as Nexo’s editor-in-chief.
Last September, once it decided its readership base was big enough to start introducing the concept of paid content, Nexo implemented the metered paywall it had always intended to put up, waiting until after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s 36th president, was officially completed. Readers can access five stories for free, then pay 12 Brazilian Reais (US$3.81) a month for full access (certain sections of the site like podcasts and videos remain open to non-paying readers). The site has also started selling subscription bundles to academic institutions.
Rizzi and Miraglia were tight-lipped about what other offerings Nexo is working on, but pointed to podcasts, which haven’t quite hit the same stride in Brazil as they have in the U.S., as a format they’re interested in exploring further. They also mentioned the possibility of some “partnerships,” ideas for “new formats around user experiences,” and that Nexo is developing two apps.
“The public discourse in Brazil is very polarized. The idea of debate itself is challenged. We want to contribute to the public debate,” Miraglia said. “Communicating with our readers is a key aspect of that. We are taking a lot of suggestions from our readers. They talk to us when there are mistakes. They talk to us when there are compliments. They share a lot of our content. It’s rewarding that our audiences see what we’re trying to do.”
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Gustavo Gomes